Last week, when a coach told senior linebacker Erik Rask he had been named one of two finalists for the Ivy League’s Defensive Player of the Year, he had to wait before he could share the good news.
“They had to wait for the official Ivy League press release or announcement, so I kind of kept it quiet,” Rask said. “But obviously when I found out, I was pretty excited and a little surprised.”
Rask had a stellar season for the Quakers, recording a team-high 83 tackles. He also led Penn in passes defended, with eight on the season.
The senior captain has started in every game the last two years, and played in all 10 his sophomore season. He has received All-Ivy honors each of the last three years. The Newport Beach, Calif., native even scored his first points for the Quakers in his final collegiate game against Cornell, when he ran in a tipped pass for a touchdown.
“We couldn’t be more proud of what Erik has accomplished here at Penn,” coach Al Bagnoli said. “He has been a true captain in every sense of the word — on and off the field — and had a tremendous season for us this year.
“He has set a great example of what hard work and dedication can achieve. Erik has earned this recognition and, if selected, would be truly worthy of the honor,” Bagnoli added.
Rask is up against Harvard senior defensive lineman Josue Ortiz, who led the Ancient Eight with 10 sacks this season.
“From [what] I heard from players that played against him on our team and from a couple other people around the league, he’s a really solid player,” Rask said. “I think he was Harvard’s best player on the Ivy League championship team, so he deserves all the credit as well.”
For the first time in the history of the Asa S. Bushnell Cup, the Ivy League is recognizing the accomplishments of offensive and defensive standouts separately. On the offensive end, the leage has nominated Cornell quarterback Jeff Mathews, who broke the season and single-game passing records this year, and Dartmouth running back Nick Schwieger, who won the award last year.
“If you just look at any MVPs, especially in football, it usually goes to the quarterback or to the running back or something like that,” Rask said. “So I think it’s good that they’re recognizing someone on the defensive side of the ball as well.”
Recently, however, the League has recognized Penn’s defensive excellence. Jake Lewko, who signed with the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent after his 2010 graduation, was a co-recipient of the Bushnell Cup two years ago.
“It’s something that I think shows a lot of hard work that I put in during my four years,” Rask said. “It’s a great honor to finish of my career just being one of the finalists.”
The award will be presented Dec. 5 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.